Snippets of a life - 'dangling their legs in the water to catch pretend fish'

Sun Nov 2, 2003

Since I haven’t written for a while, I guess I’ll have to settle for an imagistic, yet succinct style and avoid expounding on some trivial event for the sake of play. For surely that is what all writing is, to “move or operate freely within a bounded space”, unlike the machine whose movements are sure and calculated, a writer’s words move like the water within a fountain, bounded by no immutable law except the limitations of the medium itself.

I guess the easiest way to do this is just to work backwards, so I’ll start with last night. Met up with Sora and her cousin, Kathe for a little sightseeing. Kathe came to Korea to attend a family wedding, she lives in San Diego. Her mother is Korean and her father is Japanese, so she visited both countries. Anyways, this was her last chance to meet up with us so we made a day of it. We started out at GyeongbukGung palace, the autumn foliage in the palace grounds was so beautiful. Then we headed to COEX mall and had some sushi and coffee, went shopping and walked around. Then we decided to go to Sinchon, the student quarter, for a beer and that’s when the evening starts becoming a little hazy in my mind. On the way I almost got arrested by the transit police for jumping the turnstiles in the subway, but my ticket wasn’t working, it’s not like I was trying to jip the transit company out of their 70c. We started out at one dingy little pub drinking long island iced teas while they constantly spewed white smoke in the air for no apparent reason (think about it, no dance floor). Then went to another bar for some beers, where they were playing some awesome old-school grunge, then met up with Sora’s other cousin who took us wandering through the streets in search of some elusive nightclub he’d read about in a newspaper.

Incidentally, American soldiers have been causing so much trouble picking fights in the clubs and hassling Korean girls that they’re now banned from this “Korean” club district. Kathy was determined to take a picture of a sign that read “AMERICAN GI’S ARE NO LONGER PERMITTED ON THESE PREMISES” but a surly bouncer kept blocking the sign. At this point I should also explain that the so called “Western” and “Korean” clubs are quite different. Korean clubs will cost you about $70 to get in and are really ostentatious, flashy places where you have to dress up, that means a suit for the guys. They offer a match-making service, where waiters scurry about delivering messages to you from the opposite sex and try to find you a partner. The entertainment usually consists of a live performer who leads the dancing. Western clubs are the more garden-variety Dj-centric sort of affair. I should also point out that in Itaewon, the ‘foreign district’, there are “FOREIGNER ONLY” clubs, which means that no Koreans at all are allowed in, so you can see that the discrimination exists on somewhat unequal playing grounds.

Anyways, we ended up in this awful techno/trance place where everybody faced the DJ dancing kind of lethargically and waving their glow sticks around. Sora said they looked like Aliens. Alien octopuses. After a while I was bored and suggested we leave only to be told we’d have to wait for the trains to start running again at six in the morning. But it was too awful to stay so we walked around outside and found a discarded couch somebody had thrown out with the garbage and sat on that for a while until we almost froze to death. Flashbacks to the park-bench in Barcelona ‘95. Then we bought some Ramyon noodles at the 7-11 and ate them on the plastic picnic tables outside. It getting colder, however, so we debated where we could go to warm up. Most homeless clubbers end up going to the bath house and sleep in the steamy public baths. We decided rather to hire a “Video Room”, a place similar to the “Norae Bang”, except you hire a small room with large couches and a projection DVD player. We put on the longest movie which we could find (Catch me if you can) and then just slept through it. I saw the sunrise for the first time since new year’s eve 1999 then hit the sack at nine this morning.

I actually first met Kathe over a week ago when we had dinner at “Popporos” my favourite Kumchon restaurant. She showed me some pictures of the wedding. In Korea, people get married in these bizarre “Wedding buildings”, large flashy marriage machines which put Vegas to shame. Let’s just mention the fake wedding cake, cheesy sound effects, lots of soap bubbles, confetti and one marriage every twenty minutes and leave it at that. Some of the post-marriage rituals are quite fascinating, especially the receivership of the male dowry, but that’s another story.

At school I’ve managed to make enemies of all the Ajummas. The honorific term Ajumma is used to address older ladies. The elderly are highly respected in Korean culture, no matter what their position in society. This means that old ladies like our cook and cleaning lady are actually deferred to, even by Won Jang Nim herself. It’s funny, the cook gets mad at me for borrowing her stuff the whole time for science experiments. I used to get secretly mad at the cleaning lady because we’d always fight for the food scraps when I’m working late at night. But the other day she kindly made us some noodles, so for now at least the food wars have entered a cease fire. Also, Ajumma threw away all of our Halloween material, but did she get the blame? Oh no, poor Sora was deemed 100 % at fault, ostensibly because she put the box with the stuff in it in the recycling area. But it wasn’t in the recycling area and the real reason for her blame is because she’s the youngest and always gets dumped on.

Won Jang Nim has decided to hire professional choreographers to teach the kids the Snow White production they’ll present upon graduation. She apparently lost faith in our ability to teach song and dance numbers after the dismal speech contest. I had been wondering if the school even makes any money at all with all these extra expenses and I found out it doesn’t, and in fact never has. The school has never even broken even since it opened and in fact loses five million won a year. When I found this out I became very nervous about the prospect of not getting paid my bonus at the end of my contract in March. I must say though, from what I’ve seen, Wonderland schools elsewhere can be absolutely nightmarish, especially in Seoul where the kids aren’t as well behaved as in the ‘countryside’. I do feel lucky in this regard because at least our kids are relatively respectful, even though their English sucks big-time compared to the city kids. My parents were worried about me because they saw on the news in Canada something about a Canadian guy in Korea being asked to sign for a parcel, only to discover it was drugs and he was thrown in prison and it seems the school set him up for it. I never heard about it. It’s funny how the media can distort and cause alarm, especially when thinking of loved ones overseas, because on the news over here I saw that some vicious flu epidemic was descending on B.C. from Alberta but my dad hadn’t heard about that either. Remember that ‘culture of fear’ concept? Mmmm….

Oh yes, and then there was Halloween, which was truly nightmarish and not because of the costumes. We took the kids out parading on the streets and sending many an elderly person taking their morning stroll scurrying away in alarm. It’s not celebrated here, obviously, so we had to take them to five different apartment complexes where their parents live. Debbie was screaming at them to sing the Halloween songs we had taught them continuously until they couldn’t sing anymore, but mostly she wanted them to chant ‘We want to go to Wonderland….We want to go to Wonderland….” over and over. It was then I realized we were a walking advertisement and was glad I was dressed as the Grim Reaper because the hood hid my face. When we came to Arnold’s dad’s restaurant (Korean Mr. Bean), he tried to take pictures of Arnold, who was dressed as Superman. But then Arnold started kicking his dad and hitting Jacob right in front of him. So now his dad knows the embarrassing truth that his little darling son is actually the true instigator of violence, it was highly amusing. Chris (K. teacher) is such a fake, normally on field trips she sits by herself at the front of the bus and yells at the kids to shut up now and then. But this time Won Jang Nim was with us and she was happily playing around with the kids and laughing and joking around with them. I was just shaking my head, what a suck-up.

Anyway, that’s a rather mean thing to say I know, but since this entry is so damn long, I’m sure no-one has made it this far. But if you have then thank you for reading.

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